By Will Dabbs, MD, American Handgunner
Just what is it with the Germans and their guns? Perhaps it’s those outrageous flip-top mugs from which they swill their beer. Maybe the lederhosen keeps a little more blood in their brains. Whatever the reason, the Germans seem to have a timeless gift for building weapons. Be it a vintage MG34 belt-fed machinegun, Georg Luger’s inspired P08 Parabellum pistol, or the revolutionary StG44 Storm Gun, German gunmanship is the stuff of legend.
On live, international television the British SAS used Heckler and Koch submachineguns to take down the Iranian embassy in London on May 5, 1980. Suddenly overnight everybody who carried a gun for a living had to have an MP5 in the trunk of his squad car and a set of black fatigues hanging in his closet. The last thing Osama bin Laden saw before he queued up for his 70 dark-eyed virgins was the nasty end of an HK416 rifle. When the hardest Special Operators on the planet need firepower, H&K fills their arms rooms.
HK finally heard the cries of the masses and came out with a striker-fired, polymer-frame tactical handgun at a reasonable price. The gun sports more bells and whistles than anybody else, and shoots like a dream.
The new HK VP9 is built upon the success of their previous handgun designs like this USP in .45 ACP. The VP9, while still not cheap, is available at
a much nicer price point.
Where’d It Come From?
The Heckler and Koch Company rose from the ashes of World War II around the extraordinary roller-locked action driving the Spanish CETME assault rifle. They eventually settled back into post-war Germany and expanded the basic system to drive the G3, HK33 and MP5 families of weapons. Along the way they produced a bewildering array of small arms ranging from pocket pistols to automatic grenade launchers and everything in between. While their reputation for quality was unmatched, this reputation came at a cost. If your email address did not end with .gov you likely did not enjoy extensive experience with HK products.
In the 1980’s along came another Teutonic arms manufacturer that turned the gun industry on its ear. Gaston Glock’s eponymous handgun rivaled a screwdriver for reliability and found its way into 65 percent of the law enforcement holsters in America as a result. While Gaston’s polymer frame and striker-fired action were revolutionary — his was not the first.
I owned an HK VP70Z back in the 1980’s. The 9mm VP70 sported an 18-round magazine and was originally designed to be fired in bursts from a detachable shoulder stock. The trigger actuated a striker system not conceptually dissimilar from that of Glock’s G17. As it was adapted from a machine pistol, the long 12- to 15-pound double-action trigger of the VP70Z was arguably the most wretched I have ever seen on a military handgun. Regardless, the VP70Z does serve as an intermediate step leading to today’s modern offering.
The magazine release is a bilateral thumb lever folks either love or hate — I like it. Grip ergonomics are changeable, and I guarantee you’ll find a fit for your hand with this gun.
The HK VP9 field strips readily without tools, and the trigger need not be pulled during the process. The human engineering embodied within the design is superlative.
What’s It Like?
HK finally heard the cries of the masses and produced a striker-fired service pistol which embodies the engineering prowess and quality defining the company, at a price within reach of the Common Man. VP stands for “Volkspistole” or “People’s Gun.” The VP9 is a full-sized service pistol for law enforcement, military and civilian defensive use that — in my opinion — very simply out-does everybody else.
John Browning was born five years before the onset of the American Civil War yet his short-recoil operating system drives most of the combat handguns in the world even today. The VP9 is no exception and its operating mechanism is common to the Hi-Power, Glock, HK USP and SIG family of handguns and most others. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
The slide has heavy serrations both front and rear and all the edges are magnificently melted. The rear of the slide sports the most them Charging Supports — to facilitate manipulation when sweaty, rushed or both. I have never seen anything quite like them and they are inspired. The dust cover exhibits the expected Picatinny-standard rail and there is enough of it to accommodate any reasonable accessory.
The 15-round magazine falls free cleanly and the gun comes with a single spare. The magazine release is a bilateral lever. Love it or hate it the device works great for me. The striker is visible in the rear of the slide when cocked.
The grips sport finger grooves not unlike the HK P30 as well as interchangeable backstraps and an array of side panels. There are 81 different possible combinations by my count. So long as you have human hands you can customize this gun to fit like you were born with it.
The indestructible steel sights are snag-free and luminous with the expected white dots. The sole external safety is built into the trigger blade in the manner of that other Teutonic pistol we mentioned earlier. There is an ingenious integral pivoting safety lever built into the guts of the slide. Takedown is ludicrously simple and the trigger need not be pulled to accomplish stripping.
The HK VP9 is the end result of literally generations of quality gunmaking. The same human engineering making the MP5, the G36 and the HK416 the go-to irons for the finest shooters on the planet now gives American shooters arguably the finest polymer-framed pistol ever made.
The sights on the HK VP9 are luminous, no-snag, drift-adjustable and steel. Out of the box the sights are sufficiently rugged and effective in low-light
How Does It Run?
Of course it was reliable. The VP9 ate steel-cased blasting ammo as well as the high-end defensive stuff with comparable aplomb. The barrel sports polygonal rifling for a wee bit more velocity and a simply insane service life. Practical accuracy was superlative and the gun feels like it is a part of my arm on the range.
The grip-to-frame angle of the VP9 closely approximates the revered 1911. The trigger has a predictably smooth and consistent pre-travel take-up, a crisp break and a delightfully abbreviated reset. The grip is nicely undercut and, it is with care I say this — I think it shoots better than any other polymer handgun I have ever fired.
Unlike my HK USP that set me back nearly a grand, the new HK VP9 sports an MSRP of $719. The VP9 has more bells and whistles than literally anybody else out there, yet its shop price should be nearly in line with the other guys. It is a Brave New World when a new-in-the-box handgun from Heckler & Koch embodying all the quality, reliability and superlative engineering we have come to expect from this storied firearms manufacturer can be had for about the same money as everybody else’s stuff. It is HK’s “People’s Gun.”
Photos: Sarah Dabbs
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